Friday, April 03, 2009

World Cup 2010 Round-up: The rest of the world

And so to the final part of our mammoth World Cup round-up where we tie up all the loose ends in Asia, the CONCACAF region and, to begin with, Africa...


The third and final round of qualifying got underway last Saturday with the remaining twenty teams split into five groups of which only the winners will reach South Africa 2010.

To start with, we must reflect on the terrible news from Ivory Coast where 19 people were killed and 130 injured in a stampede before the match against Malawi in Abidjan. It's still unclear what caused the stampede, but it is known that thousands of fans were flocking to the Felix Houphouet-Boigny Stadium to witness the return of Didier Drogba to the national side after injury.

Many fans were still outside when the match started and it's believed huge numbers had made a late desperate attempt to get in, thus causing a stadium wall to collapse. Unaware of what was happening, the two sets of players kicked off and after the home side won 5-0, the full scale of the tragedy was made aware to Drogba and his team-mates.

Moving onto other more prosaic events elsewhere, Burkina Faso won their Group E match against Guinea 4-2 to start their campaign level on points with Ivory Coast while in Group B, Tunisia took the early advantage with a 2-1 win over Kenya. Nigeria, favourites to win the group could only draw 0-0 away to Mozambique and it's said the home side could and should have picked up all three points.

Arguably the shock result of this batch of games was the 2-1 win for Gabon over Morocco in Group A. Alain Giresse's side didn't even qualify for the last African Cup of Nations, but two first half goals from Pierre Aubameyang and Roguy Meye were enough to snuff out the threat of the Atlas Lions.

Elsewhere in the group, Emmanuel Adebayor's eleventh minute goal proved good enough for Togo to beat Cameroon 1-0 and he was even allowed the luxury of missing a penalty late on. All is therefore set for a great round of games at the start of June when Togo travel to Gabon and Cameroon play host to Morocco.

Group D predictably saw Ghana get off to a winning start with a 1-0 win over Benin while Fredi Kanoute's goal for Mali was soon equalised by Sudan's El Tahir meaning both teams trail the Black Stars by two points at this early stage.

Finally in Group C, African champions Egypt were held to a 1-1 draw against Zambia while in Kigali Rwanda picked up an impressive point against former African champions Algeria.

June 2009 will see twenty more matches take place, and we'll be reporting on the latest news from across Africa when they happen.


It's a case of 'as you were' in the two Final Round groups in Asia with the top two teams in each case both retaining their places.

In Group 1, Australia survived a tough first half against Uzbekistan to win 2-0 in Sydney on Wednesday. Goals from Karlsruher's Joshua Kennedy and Galatasaray's Harry Kewell mid-way through the second half ensured the Socceroos stayed top of the table while Japan enjoyed a narrow 1-0 win over Bahrain at the weekend to stay second.

Had Bahrain and Qatar drawn their match a couple of days ago, Australia would have confirmed their place at the 2010 World Cup, but a 52nd minute Fouzi Aaish goal for Bahrain means Pim Verbeek's side will have to wait until at least June 6th to start their celebrations.

In Group 2, South Korea laboured to a rare victory over North Korea thanks to a late goal from FC Seoul's Kim Chi-Woo. It puts the Taeguk Warriors one point clear of their northern neighbours at the top of the group, but Saudi Arabia have turned up the heat on both teams following a poor start to their campaign.

Last Saturday saw the Saudis begin a successful week by beating Iran 2-1 away from home which was followed by a 3-2 win over the United Arab Emirates which ends the latter's chances of reaching South Africa next year.

The Group 2 table appears to show a three horse race but Iran have a game in hand which, if won, will put them only a point behind Saudi Arabia. All remaining matches in both groups will be played throughout June, so watch this space to see which four (or maybe five) lucky teams make it through to the Finals...

North and Central America

News reached us last night that the Mexican FA have sacked Sven-Goran Eriksson following a 3-1 defeat to Honduras which leaves his former side looking at a play-off if they're to reach the next World Cup.

Eriksson went into the match buoyed by a 2-0 win over Costa Rica last Saturday which temporarily lifted the pressure on the former England manager, but the Hondurans were better in every department as a disjointed Mexico once again failed to pick up any points away from home.

That win - Honduras' first in the final round group - lifts them into third place in the table behind leaders United States and Costa Rica. Both teams play each other on March 6th and for home side Costa Rica a win will be vital if they're to overhaul the unbeaten Americans.

SPAOTP's friend on Twitter, @sensei208, tipped us off about the USA's sensational young striker Jozy Altidore and with some justification. The 19-year-old became the youngest ever scorer for the USA when he grabbed the first of two goals in a 2-2 draw away to El Salvador last Saturday. He went onto follow that up with a hat-trick against Trinidad and Tobago during the week.

Without his first goal, the USA may have been on the receiving end of a shock defeat to the Salvadorans who were 2-0 up with 18 minutes remaining. Once Altidore had pulled one back for the visitors, Frankie Hejduk headed in from close range with two minutes left on the clock to salvage a point.

America's second match was an altogether more straight-forward affair and cemented T&T's position at the bottom of the hexagonal. Jozy Altidore's three goals against the Soca Warriors show why he was snapped up by Villareal last year and will no doubt prompt them to recall Altidore from his loan spell at Second Division side Xerez too.

All in all then, the USA and Costa Rica are living up to their top billing at the moment but Honduras are making the most of Mexico's slip. El Salvador and Trinidad & Tobago are yet to win in three matches and with some tough opposition to come in their next games their task won't be getting any easier.

The thing to note, however, is that none of the teams are quite getting things all their own way. The USA and Costa Rica will always bring out the best in the weaker teams and with a relatively few games to play, a point lost or gained here and there could prove vital to all of them. With the competition set to end in October, no-one's taking anything for granted just yet.

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